Here's some not-news: Greyhound racing is on the decline. Holy grail of the south, Walthamstow Stadium, was shut down in 2008 and there is now only a handful of tracks left in the country. London's remaining bastion is Wimbledon; dog racing has been held on this site since 1928, and against the odds these are still happening weekly.
Neither a betting man nor a particular lover of mutts, there's nonetheless something about the tradition of greyhound racing that I like. Last Friday, myself and a couple of mates headed to Wimbledon for a few track-side pints and a flutter.
A total novice can soon work out the brass tacks of greyhound racing. On this occasion there were 13 races, spread over 15-minute intervals, and which lasted under a minute each. The greyhound is released from a numbered 'trap', and you can bet on a 'win', a 'place' (for finishing first or second), or an 'each-way' (I'm totally lost on this one, even after reading a Wikipedia entry on it).
The greyhounds themselves (as you'd hope) have been given esoteric names which must make sense only to the owners: Riverside Bruce; Boogie on Duke; Lance Perceval. The idea is to ignore all track records and odds, and to bet on the dog with the stupidest name (but if you refer to its name to the bookie you'll get a weird look; just use the trap number).
Something that soon became clear (and which I summarily ignored) was that it helps if you can hold out on betting until you've actually seen the dogs paraded track-side. Shouts of "hey, he's limping!" are not uncommon from those who have already put down money, only to see their dog is far from a canine Usain Bolt. Another tip I'd give to greyhound racing newbies; don't stand right next to the track if you've got a drink in your hand, otherwise you'll end up with a sandy pint of Guinness.
Wimbledon Stadium is rather oversized for today's greyhound racing turnout, but the one side of the track that does have punters on it had a superb atmosphere, and on Friday consisted of people from all walks of life and all generations (there was a group of kids aged about eight who appeared to be on a winning streak). I'm glad I didn't wear my flat cap, because I didn't see a single one on show.
As mentioned before, gambling is not a forte of mine. We kept our bets low, and the returns reflected this: the biggest win of the night was a paltry £2.70, with the second and only other chalk-up coming in at 80p. As predicted, I won nothing.
Although 13 races sounds a lot, they fly by quickly, especially when you're queuing for beer and bets in between. Fortunately there was a pub across the car park, where punters (some of them fresh from the greyhounds) were belting out karaoke classics using notes hitherto unknown by the world of music. It marked the perfect curtailment to a wonderful evening.
Racing takes place at Wimbledon every week. Stock car racing happens here sometimes too. Entry for the dogs is a bargain £6 (Friday) and £7 on a Saturday (this includes a programme) and food and drink is decently priced. You can find out more here.
Will's blog originally appeared on Fiz.com